The latest in a long line of incredible-but-true stories from World War II turns out to be one of the best. In Darkness dramatizes the saga of a group of Jewish men, women and children who paid a sewer worker in the city of Lvov to hide them underground, little dreaming that they would spend more than a year in that dark, damp, environment.
A key reason the movie is so effective is that it is also the story of that sewer worker (well played by Robert Wieckiewicz), who has no use for Jews and enters into this arrangement as a business transaction, nothing more. His transformation into the Jews’ protector and champion is both gradual and believable; what he comes to realize, over the course of many months, is that these unfortunates are just people, like any others.
Working from a script by David F. Shamoon (based on a book about the real-life incident by Robert Marshall), director Agnieszka Holland builds a tremendous amount of suspense in the dim, confined space of the sewer tunnels, with periodic side trips to the world above-ground. We come to know the Jews as individuals, and share their hair-raising near-misses when Nazi storm troopers and other sewer workers come close to finding them. One scene involving an underground flood is as gripping as any moment in a high-tech Hollywood thriller.
Like any survival story, this one depicts the incredible will to live that characterizes the human species, along with our failings and frailties. But what moved me the most is the reminder that one person—the unlikeliest hero, in this instance—can make a real difference in the world around him. It is also an effective treatise on the power of the human conscience, and one man’s will to do the right thing. The cathartic effect of watching In Darkness is difficult to articulate; I can only tell you that by the end, I was in tears.
I am glad that In Darkness has earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Foreign Language Film, representing Poland; I hope it also finds a large and appreciative audience.